2020 AIA/ACSA Intersections Research Conference: CARBON

Fall Conference


April 22, 2020

Abstract Deadline

July 2020

Abstract Notification

Sept. 30 – Oct. 2, 2020

Virtual Conference


11:00am EST


12:15pm EST

Research Sessions & Workshop

2:30pm EST


3:45pm EST

Research Sessions

5:30pm EST

Interactive Session: NETWORK SKETCHING

Thursday Schedule


Carbon + Cities

Carbon + Cities Plenary

11:00am – 12:00pm (EST): 1 HSW Credit

This panel will explore the latest policy innovations cities are creating around carbon dioxide reduction and where we should be going next. With examples from across the country they’ll present both key climate policies, land use implications, challenges urban environments are facing and how architects can advocate for a healthier, more just world.

Peter Exley

AIA First Vice President & Moderator
Architecture is Fun

Lotte Schlegel

Institute for Market Transformation

Holly Samuelson
Harvard University

Jesse Keenan

Tulane University

Carbon + Cities: Concurrent Sessions

12:15pm – 1:45pm (EST)

New Visions for Global Cities + Buildings

Research Session: 1.5 HSW

Moderator: Nse Umoh Esema, New York City Economic Development Corporation

Designing for Resilience: Comprehensive Research Strategies in Creating Holistic Urban Environments

Rubén García Rubio
Tulane University

Taylor Scott
Tulane University

The changing global climate has led to rising sea levels, severe droughts, and substantial flooding events within urban populations worldwide. Over 500 million people across the planet live in highly populated areas along river basins, where severe weather conditions threaten their everyday lives. Moreover, a large percentage of these people live in mega-cities, where the urban population is 10 million people or more. These cities account for a majority of the world’s food, freshwater, and economic output. As architects and designers, we must engineer new and innovative ways to increase the resilience of these communities that are at the frontline of climate impacts. The Addis Ababa Research Project is an international and multidisciplinary research project based in one of the most evolving and important megacities affected by climate change in Africa: the capital city of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa. The main objective of this research project is to design a holistic urban resilience strategy for Addis Ababa and its 50km of river tributaries that weave through the city. The methodology of the project is organized into three unique scales. The first is a focused study of how climate change has affected Addis Ababa’s history, ecology, and culture. The second scale proposes solutions to these issues through a comprehensive master plan for a specific area of the city: the Upper Kebena River watershed. The third and smallest scale includes specific architectural interventions at the most significant sites highlighted by the masterplan. The design logic of the masterplan is continued into the design strategies specific to each site’s urgent ecological, infrastructural, and socioeconomic issues. In this way, each site strategy serves as a part of a holistic understanding of how to implement adaptive reuse strategies to solve urban ecological and anthropological issues. This presentation will highlight one such site strategy: the redevelopment of Peacock Park. Currently, this underutilized parkland also doubles as an informal urban agriculture hub and marketplace. The proposed design intervention includes the implementation of retention ponds and vegetated slow sand filtration systems. This creates a new ecological environment that can withstand seasonal flooding, polluted waterways, and sequester carbon into ground soils, which are, in turn, used for urban farming practices. The use of vernacular design typologies and building materials reduced the embodied carbon levels associated with redesigning the existing farmers’ residences and marketplaces. A phased approach to redesign also allowed for the adaptive reuse of existing commerce sites into agricultural learning centers. If Implemented, this three-step methodology of urban ecological and anthropological research, master planning, and site intervention could create a more resilient Addis Ababa. Moreover, this approach could serve as a new framework for understanding and designing for resiliency in cities worldwide. Megacities such as New York, Lagos, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Mumbai all face water-related issues exacerbated by climate change, where traditional solutions have not been enough. Further research would apply this comprehensive, three-step process to other urban sites to elucidate sustainable strategies to solve complex ecological problems.

The Footprint of Tight: Hinterlands, Landscape and Dense Cities

John Doyle
RMIT University

Graham Crist
RMIT University

The Supertight refers to the small, intense, robust and hyper-condensed spaces that emerge as a by-product of extreme levels of urban density. These ideas were explored through a site specific architectural installation and curated exhibition that was held in Melbourne in 2019 and drew on contributions from practitioners throughout Asia to explore the role of design in negotiating and expressing density in urban environments. The project explored the term ‘Tight’ as a positive and more nuanced approached to thinking about urban density. Tightness is the reconciliation with and adaptation to social behaviours for hyper dense environments. It is exemplified in fast changing Asian cities, the by-product of unprecedented metropolitan convergence which demonstrate new urbanisms, new architectures, and new models for living and making culture. This paper will expand upon the content of this exhibition and explore the broader regional and planetary impact of urban density. If the Supertight is focused on cities, its consequence is equally on the landscapes that support cities. While we as architects focus on the object of density, the centre of cities – their organisation, occupation and formal characteristics, we often overlook the vast hinterland that supports dense urban cores. Cities such as Singapore and Hong Kong, which were explored heavily through the exhibition and are in many ways models of the physical and social management of extreme density, are equally exemplars of cities that rely heavily on supply chains that stretch well beyond their borders. Hong Kong imports up to 90% of its food from as far afield as Brazil, while Singapore has effectively colonised Johor and the south-eastern areas of the Malaysian peninsula to provide resources for its growth. This paper will build upon discussions emerging from the Supertight exhibition, and will critically reflect upon, map and document the relationship between particular architecture projects and urban locations and the broader networks that support their existence. While urban density and compact cities are generally understood to be more sustainable than sprawl, to what extent does the close settlement of cities result in an expansion of terrain and resources to support them? Do dense cities require more to enable their existence, and how does behaviour and patterns of consumption impact that potential for density to be sustainable? The paper will explore how productive landscapes that support dense cities be absorbed within dense urban cores, and what would need to shift in order to enable this. Reflecting on design studio teaching and research-based design work, it will speculate on how this might change the way our cities look and work. Ultimately, we will argue for the importance of tightness as a cultural and social practice. For cities to be truly sustainable the answer to any question must always less rather than more. However, this cannot be limited to simply meaning less footprint, but must extend to the cultivation of a culture tight consumption in which dense settlement is coupled with contiguous production frameworks and a tightening of the resources required to sustain them.

Reducing Carbon and Improving Thermal Comfort for an Orphan Village in Rural Liberia

Joshua Lee
Carnegie Mellon University

Leila Srinivasan
Carnegie Mellon University

Liberia experienced two devastating civil wars during the 1990s and early 2000s that resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths and nearly total destruction of its centralized electrical and water infrastructure systems. The loss of these systems has been especially acute and persistent in rural areas. Yet Liberia is on the rebound and is currently among the top 20 countries in the world for population growth rate and has recently begun to aggressively rebuild its power system. It currently has an installed capacity of 126 MW with a 2030 target of 300 MW. Unfortunately, most of this electricity is generated using diesel and heavy fuel, which produces large quantities of black carbon. In rural areas, power is generally provided by small, inefficient, gas-powered generators to power lighting and electric fans but may rejoin the grid as the system is rebuilt. Thus, it is imperative that buildings in Liberia reduce their carbon footprint while improving thermal comfort by employing a variety of passive strategies. Proper building orientation, cross-ventilation, generous soffits, roof color, roof ventilation, stack ventilation, wing walls, solar fans, and landscaping can be combined to significantly reduce heat gain and increase cooling through natural ventilation, but these strategies are not commonly practiced in Liberia for a number of social and economic factors. Thus, this project tested a variety of passive strategies and adapted them to the specific program, climate, society, materials, and methods of construction currently available in rural Liberia. The team used a series of computational fluid dynamic (CFD) simulations to assess the best combination of ventilation strategies for thermal comfort. These simulation models take into consideration the material properties and the solar radiation on site but place a greater emphasis on improving the wind speed as studies show that increasing air speeds improves thermal comfort in hot and humid climates. A comparison of the baseline design against interventions such as wind funnels and angles of the slats in jalousie windows show the way the wind speeds and patterns of wind movement thereby enabling informed decision making. These recommendations were then constructed in the first built project, a communal home for orphans on a new eco-village near Buchanan City. This made it possible to calibrate subsequent simulation models with the actual ventilation metrics and air flow patterns onsite as the campus expands. An iterative process of simulations and physical site measurements has led to a number of important insights for this development and those in the surrounding area as elements of this work are already being copied in the area, creating a new, more sustainable vernacular for rural Liberia.

Stranded Assets: British Petroleum Headquarters, Lagos, Nigeria, 1960

Daniel Barber
University of Pennsylvania

Discussions of the relationship between carbon and culture have proliferated in the past decade. Scholars have sought to emphasize how energy has played a role in cultural, economic, and policy developments over the centuries. This has especially been the case relative to the processes of industrialization – to be modern, many scholars have argued, is to depend on the capacities and abilities generated by fossil fuels. Increase in energy use has been essential to the expansion of democracy and freedom around the globe in the 20th century; the dynamics of energy, economic growth, and democratic governance are also of concern in the face of increasing environmental pressures and rapid increase in economic inequity. Social justice movements are now attentive to how carbon has shaped social relations, and are looking for alternative future pathways. Cultural relations to energy are foundational to the patterns and contours of social life, and also to understanding how to adjust these patterns as new contingencies emerge. Architecture sits in the center of this dynamic, as both a material force for energy transitions and as a cultural reflection of energy systems. The intentions of designers – and policy makers, economists, developers, and others engaged in the design process – reveal the contours of cultural interaction with carbon. Architecture is in this sense a kind of media: a screen on which to watch environmental change, and a medium from which to produce it. This presentation will examine Fry and Drew’s British Petroleum Headquarters in Lagos, Nigeria, built in 1960. Fry and Drew had been active in west Africa since the middle of World War II, exploring design methods for the region often referred to as Tropical Architecture. They built headquarters for British corporations and villas for executives, as well as universities, libraries, concert halls and other public structures. The BP Headquarters building exaggerates the complications evident in these practices. British Petroleum was essential both to the economic expansion of the Niger Delta, and also to the inequitable extraction of its resources. The Headquarters is the most visible of a diverse building program in the region, including office and technical complexes at extraction sites; company towns with schools, housing, and executive villas; consumer gas stations; training facilities for Nigerian BP workers; and the infrastructure of extraction, processing, and transportation of fuels, especially around the new coastal refinery at Port Harcourt. BP House was built as a thin slab building with a south facing solar exposure, with banks of shading devices set within an extruded frame. The building was one of the first in Lagos to have a mechanical air-conditioning system; the shading devices intended to reduce solar incidence and thereby temper reliance on the mechanical system in hotter months. By the end of the 1970s, however, the shading system was removed and the extruded platforms were used to support air conditioning units. The presentation will summarize the thermal conditions of the building as initially built and today, and to assess the viability of a retrofit towards a zero-carbon future.

Urban Cyclical Systems

Research Session: 1.5 HSW

Moderator: Steve Quick, Carnegie Mellon University

Direct Air Capture Technology: An Investigation of Net Carbon Impacts via LCA based Assessment

Manan Singh
Florida Institute for Built Environment Resilience

Ryan Sharston
University of Florida

With the global carbon emissions at an all-time high and rising further towards the limits prescribed by IPCC, the relevance of negative carbon technologies is being realized as an important component of the mitigation plan [1]. The Direct Air Capture (DAC) is one such increasingly advancing technology that focuses on addressing the existing CO2 concentration in the atmosphere, rather than limiting the future emissions [2]. Still in its evolutionary phase, DAC may be understood as a compilation of multiple sub-processes which can broadly be classified into three phases including CO2 capture from the airstream, separation of captured CO2 from the absorbent, and sequestration/ utilization. Like every developing technology, DAC requires a detailed analysis of its components, to guide future developments towards maximizing the overall effectiveness of the technology in a sustainable manner. So far, the information regarding the effectiveness of DAC is primarily based on the amount of CO2 captured and the required operational energy, which may be considered an inconclusive depiction since the embodied impacts related to the implementation of the technology are essentially ignored [3][4]. That being said, the embodied impacts are particularly important in this case due to the requirement of extensive maintenance and the hardships associated with their mitigation using renewable energies. The study aims to examine the operational as well as embodied carbon emissions through the entire process of DAC using a “cradle to grave” LCA approach, and inform the following aspects: 1) The overall effectiveness of the two major variations of the DAC technology (DAC-1: Chemical Separation and DAC-2: Physical Sorbents), based on the net amount of CO2 removed from the atmosphere; 2) A comparative analysis of embodied and operational carbon impacts of various sub-technologies implemented in the process i.e. CO2 absorption, separation and utilization/ sequestration, and 3) Investigation of unintended environmental impacts other than carbon emissions, such as eutrophication and acidification potentials. The objective of the first part of the study is to provide a realistic picture of the overall effectiveness of DAC in terms of net carbon impact. The second phase will guide the future developments by discretizing the DAC process into separate components and examining the operational and embodied emissions of these sub-technologies. This phase will focus on identifying the components that the future works need to address extensively, to maximize the effectiveness of DAC. Lastly, the third phase aims to conclude the overall impact analysis by incorporating the non-carbon environmental impacts resulting from DAC. Due to the open-ended nature of the solutions being developed, the scope of the study will be limited to processes utilized by the existing DAC based engineered solutions that have broken ground recently. This LCA-based study aims to extend the understanding of DAC beyond operational efficiency and address the overall efficacy with regards to net carbon impacts. Furthermore, it, will provide a guiding framework for scholars in the field by addressing the “hidden” environmental impacts caused by a range of factors that extends from the acquisition of raw materials to the utilization and storage mechanisms.

Sourcing Energy from Waste in the Circular City: Integrated Anaerobic Digestion toward long term Decarbonization

Gundula Proksch
University of Washington

Erin Horn
University of Washington

Contributing significantly to anthropogenic climate change, energy use within buildings contributes to nearly a third of carbon emissions in the United States (Zhang et al. 2019, EPA). Meanwhile, between 30-40% of food in the U.S. is wasted and generates carbon emissions equivalent to that of 37 million cars yearly (UN FAO). Long term decarbonization strategies within the built environment can look to alternative energy mechanisms which redirect waste resources as inputs to other systems. Circular City models of sustainability look for potentials to close loops, turning waste into resources and reducing pollution. These approaches are generating increasing interest and seemingly seek to advance a very applied and practical approach to sustainability- one which will integrally require leadership from design fields, local governments, and community leadership to succeed. Organic material such as food waste contains significant energy which can be processed by the unique metabolisms of microbes into useful gasses and heat. Anaerobic digesters are one such technology which harness microbial capabilities of fermentation to process resources in a sustainable manner and harvest energy in a controlled environment from what would otherwise be merely wasted. While anaerobic digesters are often utilized in wastewater treatment and agricultural contexts- both typically located in rural areas- they are not yet broadly utilized within cities, even though urban populations and resource consumption in cities continues to rise. We seek here to explore this underutilized potential and ask what it means for buildings, communities, and their designers, who seek to advance increasing sustainability and reduce waste and pollution in the built environment in an age of increasingly realized anthropogenic climate change. This study will assess lessons and approaches to the integration of anaerobic digestion as an alternative energy source taken at building, neighborhood, and city scales through the analysis of case studies, literature, and relevant data. Among the examples are adaptive reuse buildings including The Plant in Chicago, which seeks to host an anerobic digester to heat and provide electricity for their building powered by food waste from industries within their own building and neighborhood (Figure 1); and a repurposed fortress in Perugia, Italy which is doing the same. Several community and urban scale case studies of integrated anaerobic digesters will also be assessed such as the communities of Hammerby, Malmö, Eva-Lanxmeer, and towns including Les Grisettes (in Montpellier, France) and Freiburg, Germany (Figure 2). The carbon footprint impacts of these sustainable systems and the would-be alternative impacts driven by food waste and conventional energy systems at the same scale, will be calculated and analyzed. Coordinated design and research directions to leverage this long term decarbonization approach will be discussed and potential environmental impacts to the carbon cycle contemplated in the context of relevant policy and planning directions for future sustainable, circular cities and buildings.

Farmworks: Building as a Machine for Growing Food

Eugenia Victoria Ellis
Drexel University

David Kratzer
Jefferson University

The earth’s population is reorganizing itself around urban centers and cities are growing to become megacities – cities with populations in excess of 10 million people. According to the United Nations, the global population surpassed 7 billion in 2011 and is expected to reach 9 billion by 2045. By the year 2050, 68 percent of people in the developed world will live in cities. On the other hand, today the production of food remains relatively rural with shipping distances of up to 3000 miles – the traditional process of farm to table for vegetables and produce leaves a huge carbon footprint by averaging 1500 miles and two weeks from farm to table.[1] Globally, agriculture covers 40% of the earth’s land surface and produces 17-32% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.[2] Traditional agricultural production is impacted by the availability and fertility of land, the length of the growing season, access to freshwater, pests, CO2 fertilization, and extreme weather events.[3] On the other hand, if a farming operation were to be integrated with the built environment in a high-performance building, then the growing operation would not bound by season or weather conditions. Further, if this farming operation were to be attached or adjacent to a major food supplier, then transportation costs and carbon emissions would be significantly reduced. Most importantly, with today’s technology the building interior can be tuned to optimize a particular plant’s needs for light and the appropriate wavelengths for germinating, growing and flowering; the interior temperature can be adjusted to support the different temperature requirements for growing, harvesting, packaging and shipping (with temperature ranges from 38-75&[deg]F); water can be supplied with the appropriate nutrients for a specific plant, eliminating the need for organic fertilizer, which also reduces the likelihood of introducing bacteria or insects into the food; the planting beds can be stacked vertically, accessed via a forklift; and the growing day can be shifted with respect to the outdoor environment to equalize the heat produced by the lighting indoors with outdoor temperatures and seasonal variation. Echoing LeCorbusier’s “Machine for Living,” Farmworks is a machine for growing: the wavelength of the lighting in this indoor environment is tuned to optimize plant growth and moves vertically in pace with the plant’s growth, the HVAC system keeps temperature and humidity optimal, and the building envelope is insulated and pressurized to balance interior and exterior conditions and to prevent water from condensing in the exterior wall. Here, the entire supply chain of food production occurs in one building, producing the equivalent of one acre of land using two-and-a-half 4’x9’ towers (figure 1).

Distributed Resources: A Studio Approach

Cathi Ho Schar
University of Hawaii at Manoa

This paper reflects on the structure of a research-based fourth year undergraduate design studio that explored localized and decentralized models for energy, waste, and food systems for the island of Oahu, connecting students to three of the six goals established by the Aloha + Challenge, a statewide commitment to achieving Hawaiʻi’s sustainability goals. These goals, 70% clean energy, 20-30% locally grown food, and 70% waste reduction were explored in partnership with Grove Farm, a large privately owned company focused on sustainable community development, the City and County of Honolulu Environmental Services Department, and the State of Hawaiʻi Department of Agriculture. These partnerships provided students with a systems based perspective on Oahu’s resource streams and initiatives. The studio incorporated four different projects at different scales, moving from macro to micro to understand resources at island, neighborhood, block, and dwelling scales. First, students mapped out islandwide networks for energy production and distribution, waste management, and food systems. They also visited key sites including the Covanta energy-to-waste plant, the Nanakuli landfill, and the island’s largest aquaponics farm, representing the current centralized model. At each scale, students developed hybrid typologies aimed at localizing and community-sizing these resources to reduce distribution inefficiencies and costs. These new typologies, developed in concert with agency partners, included a solar chicken or fish farm, recycling community center, and greenhouse dwelling, all acting as integrated components within a self sufficient neighborhood. Working with multiple streams at multiple scales allowed students a broad introduction to the research areas surrounding carbon management, cost of living, and fundamental island sustainability and resilience. The studio prompted two students, under the mentorship of the instructor, to apply for an undergraduate research opportunity (URO) grant to extend their work. Their project, “Distributive Agriculture: Designing for a Neighborhood-based Food Economy” received $9,092 in funding, and the URO Award of Merit at the Undergraduate Showcase upon completion, both firsts for the School of Architecture. The larger deliverable from this studio was not the final design products, but the foundation it provided for students to pursue independent research opportunities. Reflecting on this, the studio offers a model for research prep, different from thesis prep which aligns students with their own interests, instead, aligning students to the research interests of private companies, the city, and state. This orientation to broader alignment rather than focus offers an alternative approach to studio-based research. In closing, this paper will look at alignment within the research tracks established across five academic programs, to explore how our curricula connects course-driven research with growing demand.

Energy Modeling and High Performance Design

Workshop: 1.5 HSW

These three firms have produced some the most innovative projects in the US today. Ryan Lobello will present Handel Architects’ Passive House Tower for Cornell Tech on Roosevelt Island as well as Sendero Verde, Handel Architects’ new 698-unit residential mixed-use project in New York City, including affordable housing and community spaces. Holly Lennihan will present the American Geophysical Union’s headquarters in DC and the challenges it faced as a retrofit in an historic neighborhood as well as a key partnership with Interface Engineering. Doug Gensler will present PNC Tower and how a long-standing relationship with their client led to the innovative double-skinned Tower at PNC Plaza in Pittsburgh.

Moderator: Nadav Malin, BuildingGreen

Ryan Lobello
Handel Architects

Doug Gensler

Holly Lennihan
Hickok Cole

Joseph DiIenno
Interface Engineering

Carbon + Materials

Carbon + Materials Plenary

2:30pm – 3:30pm (EST): 1 HSW Credit

This panel will demonstrate material innovation happening in top architectural research labs across the country and how they’re being implemented in pilot projects. From low-carbon concrete, to algae walls that absorb CO2, to straw-based panels for single and multi-family residential buildings this panel will present both high and low-tech solutions to dealing with carbon.

Corey Griffin
Pennsylvania State University

Kyoung-Hee Kim
University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Wil Srubar III
University of Colorado, Boulder

Frances Yang

Carbon + Materials: Concurrent Sessions

3:45pm – 5:15pm (EST)

Material Innovations

Research Session: 1.5 HSW

Moderator: Chris Maurer, redhouse studio

Building with Byproducts: Experiments in 3d Paste Extrusion Printing using Wood Flour

Frank Jacobus, Tahar Messadi, Kimberley Furlong, Michelle Barry, & John Pijanowski
University of Arkansas

Advanced manufacturing such as 3D printing (additive process) and pasting are opening new frontiers in the production of complex shape and form geometries automatically from a 3D computer-aided design model without any traditional tooling. In parallel, these new processes have the potential of achieving better strength, lightness, and renewability of materials, key characteristics desired by architects, designers and engineers. In this paper, the authors discuss a variety of 3D printing experiments done in an interdisciplinary advanced research studio at the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design using wood flour and a robotic arm potter extrusion printer. The semester started with the assignment of a paste recipe that had been developed the previous summer and containing 33% wood flour, which had yielded prints that varied in their levels of success but were very informative about the strength and weakness of this product. Building on this knowledge, the next assignment was to improve this recipe in order to maximize the amount of utilized wood, thereby reducing the adhesives required to create the final printable paste. For the next several weeks, students experimented with numerous mixture types, using various adhesives and wood flour proportions. Each mixture was then tested in the robotic arm printer. Eventually, we were able to develop a printable recipe that contained 65% wood flour. This represents a substantial improvement from the common wood/plastic spool-based printing techniques which contain only 20%+/- wood product and 80% plastic. With the new recipe of the printable wood paste we were then able to determine, through extensive iterative work, the construction possibilities and limitations inherent in the printing process. As a result of an established collaborative course work, Civil Engineering faculty and students analyzed the structural capabilities of these new material mixtures. With this growing body of knowledge, the next assignment evolved into the testing of joinery and assembly techniques, and speculation on formal possibilities. As a culmination of the semester research efforts, the students were asked to construct a shade and seating pavilion using the materials and processes we had developed. The outcomes of this interdisciplinary studio experiment shed a new perspective in what the future may yield in the deployment of such green materials in the design and construction of buildings.

Single-Use Plasters: Process and Waste in Gypsum Wallboard Systems

Alyssa Kuhns
Auburn University

2018 marked the 100th Anniversary of Sheetrock. Sheetrock, a proprietary eponym for gypsum wallboard, is the dominant material used in the construction and finishing of interior partitions. It, along with other stock materials used in interior finishing such joint compound and drywall tape, is a readily available commodity and is specified in nearly all new construction. Despite its proliferation, both the product manufacturing and installation methods of Sheetrock have remained essentially unchanged in the hundred-year span of its existence. This paper investigates the carbon impacts of this lasting, ubiquitous material in contemporary construction practices. It examines both the environmental effects of unaltered characteristics and processes associated with Sheetrock and other gypsum wallboard products as well as past and future modifications that consider carbon management strategies. Although gypsum wallboard is commonly understood as a physical building product, it is only one part of a larger ecological system of materials and practices. This system includes the procurement of raw material – either raw or synthetic gypsum, manufacturing, transportation of goods, installation, finishing, and removal. Every aspect of this system has various ecological, environmental, and economic impacts each with upstream consequences. For example, while the use of flue gas desulfurization (FGD) gypsum or synthetic gypsum is generally thought to be a more energy-conscious alternative to the mining of raw gypsum, it may contain high levels of mercury and could be in short supply as coal-fired power plants close. This paper considers the costs and benefits of industry decisions such as raw material procurement on carbon management throughout all phases of the gypsum wallboard system. Unlike other modular interior finishes – suspended ceilings grids, hardwood flooring, ceramic tile – gypsum wallboard is a mass-produced modular unit that is finished as a homogeneous surface. The finishing process gives a uniform aesthetic to interior partitions but requires highly skilled labor and creates excessive debris and waste. Due to taping and finishing processes, gypsum wallboard cannot be deconstructed and, therefore, becomes waste after a single-use. This waste, along with board scrap resulting from the customization of standardized modular panels, contributes to the ‘13 million tons of gypsum wallboard debris generated in the US every year, 85% of which is landfilled’.   Focusing on the material composition, manufacturing, installation, and finishing processes of gypsum wallboard, this research investigates the carbon impacts of the gypsum wallboard industry as influenced by historical and environmental developments. This research also engages with the building product manufacturing and construction community through interviews, observational research, and data collection. The summation of this research will serve as design criteria to reconsider mass-produced interior finishing products – gypsum wallboard and joint compound – as a single, modularized panel system that would reduce necessary on-site finishing processes and associated waste through prefabrication.

Pulp: Research and Experimentation in Biodegradable Thin Shell Structures

Stephanie Davidson
Ryerson University

This presentation documents in-progress design research in temporary, biodegradable structures. The experimental, thin-shell monocoque structures have been cast using a variety of cellulose-based materials, and represent a sampling of the outcome of a studio taught at three different architecture schools. This work explores, in an experimental fashion, structures that would have a minimual carbon impact, because no demolition would be needed and the structures would naturally, aerobically decompose into their immediate environment. The work and the process of making the work serves as an example of how designers can take responsibility for both where the materials that they choose come from, and also, where they end up. Made of exclusively recycled paper and fabric pulp, the structures have the capacity to biodegrade completely. The idea for the experimental structures came from witnessing the dumpsters overflowing with models and scrap material at the end of each semester. The conviction underlying the work is that mindful handling of resources should begin in architectural education if it is going to successfully make its way further into the discipline, profession and construction industry. The design task shows students how materials are responsive and constantly changing; they are not static, fixed objects. Paper is a particularly ephemeral material, highly vulnerable to moisture. Designing something with an intentionally short lifespan, and witnessing how it can break-down and decay, introduces students to the transformative nature of materials, and shows how degradation and eventual decay could be a design strength. The projects are unique in that they expose students to an entire lifecycle of a full-scale spatial project, from conception through fabrication and finally, decay and complete disintegration. The process of decay and disintegration is studied with the same rigor and emphasis as the fabrication methods, through cast swatches. Because the work – both process and final, full-scale structures – is completely biodegradable, the studio avoids the creation of needless waste. Formally, the design research has, to-date, developed a range of small-scale studies and full-scale forms that defy straightforward typological classification. The geometries are imprecise and unpredictable and because they change as they disintegrate, the geometries are not describable as fixed things. The formal results can’t be anticipated with a high degree of accuracy before they’re actually constructed. In keeping with the low-waste ethos of the approach, formwork for each cast study is also kept to a minimum. Because of the irregularity of the cast paper shells, they’re difficult to draw with conventional tools and approaches. To-date, photogrammetry has been used as a way to document and analyze the forms as drawings. The work documented in this presentation is experimental and has very little precedent. It embraces the vulnerability of cellulose material to moisture and the elements, and views the inevitable disintegration and decay of the cast paper shells as a strength. The work asks designers to see materials as responsive and constantly transforming, and to take responsibility for where materials come from and where they end up.

Tall Wood, Thin Concrete: Digitally Drafting and Crafting in UHPC and Mass Timber

Jerry Hacker
Carleton University

Sheryl Boyle
Carleton University

Architecture schools are not intended to be, nor positioned to be vocational schools, but once outside of the academic institution registered architects must assume full professional and social responsibility for a project. From the macro to the micro, architects must be synergistic thinkers, capable of taking seemingly incompatible or unrelated objectives and transforming them into holistic and aspirational works of architecture of the highest environmental standard. This paper illustrates how a graduate design studio can simultaneously address two current crises in the profession: A perceived disconnect between the abstraction of design education and the realities of practice; and, the critically time sensitive imperative of transforming ecological practices in building materials and energy consumption. The studio takes as its premise an adaptive reuse ‘workshop’ program; integrates a new synergistic course in advanced building systems and detail design; incorporates empirical learning with UHPC and mass timber (material experimentation, 1:1 fabrication); and models the deliverables on the office practice of iterative sequentially delivered red-lined working drawings. It makes no compromise in the pursuit of design innovation and imaginative thinking, using an anonymous peer reviewed international design competition focused on exceptional environmental stewardship as the dissemination platform. A key catalyst for the pedagogical research surfaced in July of 2019 when Patrick Schumacher (Principal of the Pritzker prize winning architecture firm ZHA) enlisted social media to articulate a perceived crisis: “Architecture schools operate like art schools without any curriculum. Accordingly architectural education is detached from the profession and from societal realities [and] needs as expressed in real (public or private) client briefs&[hellip]Students’ portfolios after five years of studying might not include a single design that could meet minimal standards expected from a contemporary competition entry”. [1] This speculative postulation is superimposed with another (at first) seemingly unrelated time sensitive crisis: A moral imperative to confront concrete, a long beloved material of architects. Pervasively consumed, concrete is chosen for its durability, fire resistance, or aesthetic qualities; however, because of this pervasiveness, cement, a critical component of concrete, is the second highest person-made and consumed resource in the world (water, another essential ingredient of concrete, is first), and accounts for 8% of world CO2 emissions. [2] Instead of disputing these two crises with words, the authors provide pedagogical evidence designed to refute the claim that architecture schools are in an imminent crisis. We instead demonstrate that rigorous and critical design thinking and making, the hallmarks of architectural education, can (and should) go hand-in-hand with the highest standards for execution and long term environmental responsibility. A comprehensive studio is chosen because it occupies a unique place in accredited schools of architecture. Programs routinely use comprehensive studios to demonstrate student exposure to technical and systems integration requirements; however, two main issues often undermine the typical approach: 1) The process regularly devolves into a predominantly technically driven exercise at the expense of creative architectural invention; and, 2) These inevitable and critical parts of architecture are over simplified, thereby diminishing their potential role. Here, theory fosters practice, and practice fosters theory.

Low-carbon Concrete Construction: The Past, Present, and Future of Concrete Design in India

Mohamed Ismail
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Caitlin Mueller
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

With roots in the modernist manifesto of Le Corbusier’s Maison Dom-Ino [1], the concrete frame gave freedom to the design of the interior and eliminated the need for external load-bearing walls. Today, due to rapid urbanization and constrained urban space, the concrete frame has become the ubiquitous system of construction in growing cities. As a result, steel-reinforced concrete frames dominate the skylines of Less Economically Developed Countries (LEDCs) like India. Consequently, the mounting use of concrete in India has garnered concern for the ecological impacts of construction. The production of cement, a core ingredient in concrete, creates up to 8 percent of global carbon emissions, and that figure will only rise as concrete continues to be the most produced synthetic material in the world [2]. This suggests a valuable opportunity to reduce the carbon emissions associated with concrete construction through efficient concrete construction, building more with less. Importantly, India already has a rich history of efficient concrete architecture that utilized material efficiency when material costs constrained the cost of construction. Examples range from the pre-independence architecture of Joseph Allen Stein [3] to the post-independence work of Mahendra Raj, B.V. Doshi, Charles Correa, Raj Rewal, and others. These designers cultivated a spirit of structural expression and a command of physical forces that informed a new architectural idiom for Modern India [4]. Today, the generally risk-averse nature of development has pushed concrete construction towards standardized typologies of monolithic construction and repeated modules for ease of construction. From a structural mechanics point of view, though, these modular systems of prismatic slabs, beams, and columns, are materially inefficient. In response to the demand for materially efficient concrete construction, this paper looks back at the work of novel designers in India and presents a potential application of their ideas to future urban construction in both India and beyond. The scope of this paper is the use of reinforced concrete as a structural material from the early 20th century up to the early 21st century. Several key structures and designers will be highlighted for their contributions to concrete architecture’s history before concluding with a discussion of the future of concrete in South Asian architecture. Ongoing research by the authors is looking at the past of India’s concrete construction to inspire the materially efficient designs of the future. Applying an understanding of concrete mechanics and digital structural design methods, this research explores structural systems suited to the constraints of Indian construction to reduce the ecological and economical costs of concrete construction. This paper highlights material efficiency and newly available methods of digital fabrication as a pathway to efficient and low-carbon construction, resulting in a structural slab prototype that has been influenced by the work of India’s structural designers. This paper reflects on the past, present, and future of concrete construction in India by tracing the lineage of historic construction practices and material efficiency to the research in structural optimization being done today, looking forward to the future of concrete construction in LEDCs.

Material Cycles

Research Session: 1.5 HSW

Moderator: Zoe Kaufman, National Renewable Energy Laboratory 

A Critical Approach to Implementation of Circular Economy in Construction

Matan Mayer
IE University

Circular economy has been the subject of much academic debate within a range of consumption sectors in recent years. For the most part, this discourse focuses of the environmental benefits of circular economy in reducing both raw material consumption and minimizing solid waste output to landfills. While in theory this characterization is valid, it fails to recognize the important role that economic dynamics play in the implementation of circular economy concepts. Prior research in the field of energy production and consumption shows that an increased supply of an affordable secondary (recycled, refurbished or reused) product encourages price reductions across the market and might eventually increase demand of primary (raw) competing products, resulting in added negative environmental impacts. Within this context, this paper focuses on a critical view of the economic realities of implementing circular economy concepts in the construction industry. Given the relatively long service lives and high capital investment that are characteristic of building and infrastructure construction, the built environment is particularly sensitive to market fluctuations caused by the introduction of affordable substitute products – secondary or primary. For the same reasons, the adverse effects of an uninformed introduction of circular products into the built environment could last much longer than in product categories with shorter service lifespans. The paper introduces a detailed outline of this approach, contextualized by a survey of relevant literature from adjacent fields, followed by a demonstration of the introduced concepts on three case studies in exterior cladding products, structural frame production, and lighting applications. The paper concludes with a discussion regarding strategies for reaching environmentally benign penetration of circular products and service models into the built environment.

RhinoCircular: Development and Testing of a Circularity Indicator Tool for Application in Early Design Phases and Architectural Education

Felix Heisel
Cornell University

Cameron Nelson
Cornell University

Globally, the construction industry is the biggest consumer of energy and materials. Over their full life cycle, buildings account for nearly 40% of energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, as well as 50% of raw material extraction and solid waste production.[1] Since rates of construction are significantly higher than demolition and discard, society is building up an important economy-wide anthropogenic material stock.[2] The concept of the circular economy (CE) is increasingly gaining attention as a way to overcome the social, economic and environmental problems of this linear economic system.[3] Activating the built environment as a material reserve for the construction of future cities would not only provide valuable local resources, but also potentially prevent up to 50% of the industry’s emissions by capitalizing on embodied carbon.[4] However, this requires radical paradigm shifts in (1) how we design and construct buildings (materials selection / design for disassembly), and in (2) how resources are managed within the built environment. Buildings and regions need to anticipate stocks and flows of materials, documenting and communicating which materials in what quantities and qualities become available for re-use or recycling where and when. The emerging concept of materials passports provides digital twins of such buildings, containing detailed inventories of materials and products used, as well as their specific information. Standardization and central registration of such passports in material cadasters (comparable to a land registry) will be a prerequisite for the circular management of resources.[5] However, the application of material passports has been concentrated on the documentation of existing buildings so far. This paper describes the development of tools for the early design phase and architectural education. Specifically, the described Rhinoceros/ Grasshopper plugin provides a direct and immediate feedback on design decisions in respect to formal deliberations, structural considerations, material selection and detailing based on a continuously updated Circularity Indicator. This paper will highlight the functionality of the tool and provide results from its application in architectural design studios and real case study buildings, working towards the above described paradigm shifts.

Local Materials Matter: Carbon Reduction through the Development of context-specific building products

Edward Becker
Virginia Tech

According to the American Institute of Architects Materials Matter Program, the utilization of locally-sourced building materials and products is widely considered a ‘best practice’ to lower carbon emissions from construction, particularly if the construction materials used are bio-based(1). Such ideas of practice stand in stark contrast to dominant global supply networks where Austrian cross-laminated timber (CLT) is being imported to timber-rich Georgia to build houses in Atlanta, and vast quantities of Chinese steel and Danish brick are being used to build Manhattan skyscrapers, among many other examples (2,3). Considering that each global region has a unique material-climate DNA – often exemplified by vernacular construction methods – how can building design and construction be tailored to these context-specific factors in the twenty-first century to both reduce building-related carbon emissions from construction and operation, while also increasing building quality and performance? This document suggests that a prioritization of locally-sourced building materials, and the development of novel building products and systems from those materials, may provide an effective problem-solution path for the global architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industries seeking to reduce carbon emissions. This case study document explores two design-research projects led by the author that transformed locally-sourced, underutilized biomaterials into high performance building products tailored to their regional contexts. The first project, the New River Train Observation Tower in XX,XX, involved the utilization of low-grade timber products for the development of local-species CLT. The low-grade “trash” wood for the structural product was sourced, milled, pressed, and utilized locally, thus significantly reducing carbon emissions from construction, benefitting the local economy, and resisting region-specific pests/fungi. The thirty-foot-tall, publicly accessible tower was the first hardwood CLT building in the United States to receive a building permit and be constructed with local-species wood. The second project, the Black Rock Cabin in XX, XX, illustrates how biological systems such as mushroom mycelia can be developed into innovative, low-carbon building products. The project involves the development of building components from wood-mycelium composites and their subsequent use as facade elements. The robotically-milled building products are carbon neutral and showcase how overlooked, underutilized biomaterials – in this case mushrooms – can support the advancement of the AEC industry towards its low-carbon objectives for both short and long-term carbon management. The case study projects are intended to provide a roadmap for overcoming barriers related to product development, permitting, code compliance, and application, each key limitations for the widespread acceptance and utilization of novel low-carbon construction materials. Both projects exemplify a material-based carbon management strategy and are affiliated with the Center for Low-Carbon Structures and Systems at XXX, a multidisciplinary research unit focused on the development and implementation of novel bio-based building systems. Both case study projects and their related low-carbon products/systems align with the AIA Framework for Design Excellence, specifically Designing for Resources and Designing for Economy.

Wood+: Strategies for a Material Shift in Architectural Design

Carolina Manrique Hoyos
University of Idaho

Bruce Haglund
University of Idaho

Our architecture program is committed to promote the use of wood as the major structural material in architectural design, reinforcing a much-needed material shift to mitigate climate change. Wood is a robust alternative to concrete and steel, sequestering carbon rather than spewing it into the atmosphere. Our region is experiencing a rapid re-emergence of the use of timber and manufactured wood structural products. Timber can be sustainably harvested and milled locally, further reducing carbon pollution in the supply chain. The development of timber construction offers an opportunity to increase our Architecture Program’s commitment to environmentally sustainable architecture education. Our program has addressed this commitment by expanding curriculum and pedagogical strategies encouraging a material shift in key courses in undergraduate and graduate degrees. This paper presents those strategies in four of our architectural design studios where a wood-focused theme inspires our students to be “future stewards to shape zero-net-carbon buildings and communities”[i]. These strategies exemplify efforts to explore intersections between research and teaching, and partnerships between academia and industry in the United States and abroad. Since 2012 our third-year undergraduate studio has included an annual wood architectural design competition sponsored by a State Commission funded by the forest industry. This studio also includes sponsored activities and events such as field trips to representative wood architecture and to one of the region’s first large mills. This semester we’ve expanded our academic and industry collaborations through a new partnership with a neighboring state university, fostering an understanding of wood industry as extending beyond state borders. Tied to this studio is our one-year structural systems sequence, which includes the study of relevant mass timber precedents to illustrate capabilities that compete with other materials typically preferred for long-span and high-rise structures. In our 400/500-level vertical studios and our Integrated Architectural Design Graduate Studio we have defined the use of mass timber as the theme for comprehensive architectural design projects and have included the COTE[ii] Top Ten Toolkit as a required resource. Faculty involved in these studios have promoted this approach by supporting the “Portland Declaration” [iii], an initiative from the 2019 Reynolds Symposium proposing that sustainability should be a major component of NAAB program accreditation criteria. In summer 2019 our immersive United Kingdom (UK) Study Abroad graduate program, offered since 2006, expanded content and pedagogical strategies to include CLT. While CLT construction is an emerging technology in our region in the United States, the UK has a rich inventory of inspirational CLT projects—over 500 of which 100 are highlighted in Waugh Thistleton’s 100 Projects UK CLT (2018)[iv]. Our summer 2019 research studio to Edinburgh, Oxford, and London explored many of these inspirational buildings and engaged students in interviews with the architects and engineers from CLT-savvy London architecture firms through office visits and participation in a design charrette. Offered as a pre-requisite to the studio is the British Green Architecture Seminar where students do basic research on green buildings in the UK and form the basis for understanding cultural and environmental sustainability contributions.

Interactive Session

Network Sketching

5:30pm – 6:30pm (EST)

Moderator: Nancy Yen-wen Cheng, University of Oregon

Join our virtual network sketching session to interact with fellow architects, researchers, and educators attending the conference. We will all access a shared whiteboard to sketch, share ideas & interact with other attendees. Post pictures of your research, work and designs. Add sticky notes to intermingle, share discovered wisdom, viewpoints, & notes. The purpose of these casual, unmoderated sessions interaction is to share positive opinions, stimulate thoughts, and find ways to work together.


Nissa Dahlin-Brown, EdD, Assoc. AIA
AIA, Director of Higher Education

Eric Wayne Ellis
ACSA, Senior Director of Operations and Programs